“The Star-King”, by Edward Morris. Dedicated to W.H. Pugmire.

“The Star-King”, by Edward Morris. Dedicated to W.H. Pugmire.

W.H. Pugmire and Edward Morris – click to enlarge

Le Journal Français
Private Collection, Item 41-A
Single cahier, acquired Montmartre, ca. 1900
Carot, Jeunet et fils, Rare Books

Handwritten; (order pages by number and name)
Signatory: (illegible)

Concierge on Duty, Hotel Belleville
For effects of the Deceased:

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde

*

TO MR. W.P.

*
Overture: [separate, unmarked]

A Childe made old far too soon (one who caused public excitement and gave rise to many strange conjectures,) lounged across a divan, smoking innumerable cigarettes, sketching with a piece of charcoal by the window. Outside, he could hear bees, and smell roses from somewhere close. The dim hum of Paris was like the wheeze of a distant concertina.

This was the moment, when even he began to behold the Big Picture, the one behind the one he was essaying at. This was the Thing Which Went Click.

Now and then, the shadow of an indignant pigeon or crow would pass down the long white chintz curtains of this room in this rooming house, with the bleakness of a reflection drawn by Katsushika Hokusai. The click left him gasping, half-dead, yet somehow still alive, the fierce last stand of all he could gamble on the last and greatest of human hopes in this age that was mostly done Gilding and presently beginning to Mechanise.

As it was in the Ukiyo style, the reflection was never the same as the object. The portrait the trembling, crow-tracked man-boy eked out upon the newsprint, stroke by stroke, was a self-portrait, yet never truly himself. Down in the Rue d’Auseil, the rolling of a martial snare-drum came nearer and nearer. Its echoes struck back tinny notes from the wall. That single tin soldier marched away, in process, a thing of the purest afternoon whose eyes begged no release as he left the crash of his instrument in the artist’s ringing ears…

*
Canto 1: Coronation of the Star-King

ONCE Upon A Time, for all the best
faery stories begin that way, don’t they?
Children? ONCE. Upon a time,

Two poor and humble woodcutters
came a good league hence home through
a dark, deep wood full of snow, and lost
the right road.

When they looked toward the clouds,
there were ocean waves
where the skies had been,
and two sinking suns in place
of the former single
Moon…

“We enter the Faerie Kingdom,”
the eldest woodcutter said fearfully,
pointing to black stars
low over the hills,
winking. In the wind,

They heard tattered, jaundiced
hides rustle, and felt the
fingers of some seeking,
eyeless light that could
still see.

“Hecate’s work, or the rot
of me own brain from various
vices,” the younger woodcutter
told him back, “It makes no odds
to me.

“The old moon dies a cold
death tonight, even the
staring owl no longer sings,
and only the little foxes
sleep warm. If a thing is so,
it is so, and at present it is
terribly cold.”

On through the deep drifts they trudged,
In hobnailed boots, with frostbitten
fingers, white as millers at the
wheel
.
At length, the forest thinned,
And down in the valley below,
Their village, its lights, their joy,
The stars of Home the same strength
As those above, in brightness.

Then they remembered that at Home,
the gold stayed in the sky, always
out of reach, let alone grasp,

That starvation in a new land
was the same as in the old,

Except that here, the Queen
prayed to a different god,
and there were no lands
for anyone who prayed
to theirs,

But as they barked and carped
about their miserable lot that
month, a strange thing
happened:

From the heavens, there fell
this very bright and beautiful star,

Slipping down the side
of the sky,
sinking,

Sinking to Earth with a
flash, in a grove of trees not
half a mile hence.

The star was gold, in hue.
Theirs was a footrace, unbidden,
frostbite and sore feet and all.

And gold there was,

Lying on the snow, in a glass box,
a tatterdemalion Cloak of golden tissue,
wrought with stars, wrapped in many folds,
crown’d with many crowns.

White curls, within strange seals,
and glass: a faery babe asleep.

But for this living, bleating treasure,
their hands were now empty, their empty
homes awaiting, in the cold,

Neither a place to bring a childe,
but without strength they sat,
not able to leave what they
had found, in any good
faith.

The second woodcutter’s Faith,
and family home, were ever-
so-slightly larger. He did not
pray to the Queen’s god. He
took the babe from the aerolite,
wrapping the child in the
starry cloak he found
there. As the two
woodcutters
trudged home,

Little-Faith berated him the while.
The second woodcutter had no
ear for it. For the babe was
singing to him, in his
head.

He hung said sad head, at Goodwife’s
sight. “I have a changeling,”
mumbled he,“It weren’t
right to leave the craithur
in the snow—”

But his own wife shoved him aside.
“Two girls and never a boy to help
me with the ‘eavy work when you’re
gone?” was all his Jenny said at
first, grabbing the instrument that
had produced no male offspring,
“La’, but what if ‘ees an ill
omen, and what will I do to
nurse ‘eem? But…”

Knowing what was to come,
the woodcutter merely averted
his visage, so that Goodwife Jenny
could not see him smirking.

‘Oh…but ‘ee’s so beautiful,”
ended that particular line.

“He is a Star-Child,’
her man answered,
and told her the
manner in which
he’d been born
again, into
their own
humble
manor,

But Jenny bade him be silent.
and gestured. The Cloak
was making the windows
fog up,

Burning away the frost
all around the edges of
the hearth’s hot ring
whose reach was
never far enough.

In the crackle of faggots in the stove,
they heard the sounds of drums, as
to war, and rumours of War,

Straining and snapping
at joist & beam,
Vibrating every
nail & peg, rattling
shutters like sabres
in the heavy air,

Under the horrid, howling,
soot-choked storming skies.

Past that warm place was
the way to the freezing city
of dome on dome, tower on
thousandfold tower
rising behind the Moon,
but not just then.

The yellow wind that brought the Childe to their doorstep,

The yellow smoke that gifted Moses o’er their transom,

Entered every square, seized every avenue and palace,
Stole across narrow bridges, crept out in the fine
icy sleet that pounded the pavement with
glittering, glittering, glittering glass,
sifting every pane, drifting heaps
along the sills,

Covered them with stars and diamonds, melted,
ran again, again, within, whilst brown mice
bobbed behind the hob.

The woodcutter’s good wife
felt all this, then turned to
look at her man, eyes wet
with tears.

“What shall we call him?”

They bedded the bairn with Erin, the youngest daughter.
“Dolly,”Erin pronounced in her sleep, and scarcely roused.

This was outvoted by the senior officiant.
“John,”she said firmly, After your father.”
The green jewel in amber, around the boy’s
swan-white neck on its fine silver chain, they
wrapped in the Cloak, locked in a box, and
buried beneath the heaviest boulder in the
dooryard,

for that was ever the way.

Bare-limbed and but a toddler,
panpipe in hand, John the Singer
of Ballads would trudge after
his father, through the
woods, piping songs
that he wanted to
open doors
that would
derange the
human
flock,

Songs of dynasties in his home,
The far land of Carcosa, and
great cities on shining lakes,
Demhe and Halì,

John dreamed a tattered cloak
That was never his to wear,
For it was scarlet beneath,
as was his home,

Scarlet cinders, he told them,
out in deepest Space. He was
last of an Imperium, end of
the family line, the Last
King,

the Star-King.

The Truth was ever so much
more convoluted, and in any
case, his adoptive parents,
and Erin and Annie, merely
let John sing his songs,
spin his yarns, do his
tricks, and be.

They
let him
Be.

He sat at the same board with them,
and was their playmate. Every year,
he became more beautiful to look upon,

White and delicate as a marble koi-fish
come alive and swimming in the bowl,
his curls like the rings of the daffodil,
body like the narcissus of a field
where the mower comes not,
eyes violets by a clear-
running stream, his lips
the palest sick rose.

The slender, fair-haired boy in his floating mantle,
lovely. The purity of John’s face,whose weather
was often as variable as an April day: In the morning,
Grave, dignified and sweet; at noon, laughing, capricious,
At evening, whatever stirred the depths of the heart.

Yet he turned his beauty to the good.
His sisters made him humble, open-handed,
Taught him the magic spells of Kindness,
Genuine concern, the incantation, “Here,
play with my toy.” The other children
in the village, no matter their parentage,
learned, they learned

When some of those damned village-louts
learned evil names, and how to pick up
sticks, and clouts, and stones,

And follow John home, till he moved
The rock. He’d been able to the whole time.

He made it quick. They learned the nature
of the Cloak, that they could not touch
him, and in fact were never seen again,

before John even became aware

of what the Cloak had done,
and where those village louts
with sticks and clouts had
in fact
Gone,

And what he could become
If he gave in to it, donned

that tattered mantle of flesh,
scarlet within, and let
his star-hands reach
through worlds.

On the loom of Sorrow,
and by the white claws of Pain,
had that Cloak been woven.
“This dies with me,” John sang
under his breath, and locked

the box again, replaced the dirt,
the rock, the robe of tattered gold,
the diamond-studded crown,
the sceptre, the fair raiment
of a King, but not the
jewel around his
neck, again.

(His Mama knew,
watched from the window, and
never remarked on the matter,
but from that day, looked somehow
more at peace, somehow more
herself than she’d been since
she was a green girl
herself. )

When John wore the Jewel, he saw
the beautiful freaks, the ones born
wrong, and let them shine, not just
where-e’er they learned to, back
in the dark, at home, or for
only the eyes of immediate
kin.

He coaxed that kind
out into Light, and
sometimes

accompanied.

His parents, and even the
old village priest could
only be proud, for
there was only the
place for John he
made by being
himself.

Meanwhile, beyond the woodcut and the fief,
Twice-locked behind the palace wall, the ward
of the old King was John’s most constant
playmate,

And taught him the lute, the
harpsichord, instruments he might
never otherwise see. Stories passed
down at hearthside that a Prince
would never hear, and more,
In quid pro quo for yarns of travel,
Tales from Court, the wonders
Found boring until seen when
Told to another,
Anew.

When Edward,
that commoner-prince still kept
at court, had been but a week old,
he was stolen away from his mother.
There was no father listed. She died
of grief. No one ever told Edward
which one of the paintings in the
Great Hall was her,
or if, and why the
pane of polished
glass forever made
Edward an outsider.

But when he looked in John’s eyes,
they were princes, they were
kings. John was anodyne from pain,
restoration from sickness. For this,
Edward risked a whipping every
day he brought the albino boy
from the woods anywhere
to play.

The old King acknowledged Edward
as heir, but was sick and long out of
favor by the Council.

Where he could, Edward looked
for Beauty, and found little of it
at Court, or in the rich clothes
they made him wear that
chafed his skin.

When John and Edward played, they dressed
as urchins, wodwo in Fenian hoods,
the colors of the forest, the shoes
of running, the sandals of fey
Hermes, teaching the secrets
of Art in secret,

the two of them the
lonely worshippers
whom Beauty loved
Never before had two
felt so keenly, or with
such exquisite joy,
the magic and mystery
of beautiful things.

Who were their elders
to keep them from Empire
over all the habitable Earth?
It would be done. It would be done.
They would be Kings. Together.
Hand in glove. The nations
would rise and look
upon them.

*
On the eve of his seventeenth Midsummer,
John returned home with his pipes; barefoot,
grass-stained, exhausted, whiter than the
morning star.

A smile played and lingered
about his boyish lips, and lit
with a bright lustre his violet
eyes, as he brought back
many a tale from the
children in the village,
open-mouthed, asleep
in mid-retelling like
some young animal
of the forest newly
snared by a hunter
called Morpheus.

(His older sister Annie
hid her smile when
she saw him,

Sprawled on the couch of
home and hearth, half-
under a blanket of
puzzlement, his
expression
priceless,
not seeing
what screamed
behind.)

John’s dreams never stayed in place.
As he drifted off, he sprawled in
a court of Dream-kings, with
pages entering to disrobe
him with much ceremony,
pouring rosewater over
his hands, strewing
the petals across
his pillow,

But then,

He entered a mill, glowing
with the light of raiment he would not
wear, his eyes bright gold. Gaunt
weavers and sickly children
bent at their work, lifting
battens, pressing
threads, pinched
with famine,
shaking,
trembling.

The walls dripped and streamed
in the fog and filthy air. Have-Not
treads the grape while Have
drinks the wine.

Through sunless lanes
creeps Poverty with hungry eyes,
and Sin with sodden face. Misery
wakes them, Shame sings them
to sleep until they don’t want
to wake up on their own any
more–

And the young King gave a loud cry
and woke, and Lo!
Through his own window,
he saw the Moon hanging in the air,

And fell asleep again and dreamed,
Until the long grey fingers of Dawn
clutched at the fading stars.

He thought he was wandering
through a dim wood, hung with strange
fruits, and beautiful poisonous flowers,

Different sights of which he could not retain
even the least definitive outline continued, and
the sense of sinister change and breathless
expectancy was suffocating,

suffocating.

The dying stars
grew madblack. The last light
faded from them and went out.

Awaiting the inevitable removal
of such temporary conventions
as render human existence possible,
The brooding Prince of Truth stared steadily
back toward Carcosa, under high Dream-stars
which, too, passed, as the planets blew in
drifts like autumn leaves, and a greater
Dark summoned frost across the stars
And he remembered the cries of the Earth
When he killed it screaming, as he lay
Dreaming the other way he could have
Learned to be, if no one let him
be.

On and on he went,
till he reached the outskirts
of the world. A cold mist
followed him, and
water-snakes ran
by his side.

Like Fever in a robe of flame he passed
through the multitude, and touched them,
and the grass withered beneath his feet.

And out of the slime at the bottom of
the valley crept dragons and horrible
things with scales, and the jackals
came trotting along the sand.

And the young King wept,
for even at peace he was still
the more powerful
Monster.

And he grew pale, and said: ‘For what King?’
And the people answered: ‘Look in this mirror,
and thou shalt see Him.’

And he looked in the mirror, and,
seeing his own face, he gave a great cry

For “John” wore no Mask, and never had,
or would.

And the young King’s eyes filled with tears,
and he bethought not the murmurs of the people

‘Is this a king’s apparel? And with what crown
shall I crown myself, and what sceptre shall
I grasp? Shall Joy wear what Grief has
fashioned? The wild boar roots up the
corn in the valley, and the foxes gnaw
the vines upon the hill. In the salt-
marshes live the lepers; they have
houses of wattled reeds, and none
may come nigh them. Beggars
wander through the cities, and
eat with dogs. Canst thou make
these things not to be?”

And the stars passed through their entire
life-arcs in his dreams, and left him
watching all alone amid the ruins
of Eternity as they began to
reignite, the galaxies came
back on like electric
lamps at twilight,

& Entropy
woke back up,

& what was Broken
became Made,

& the bright sunlight
came streaming into the
room, & from the
trees of the garden
the birds were
singing.

Through the painted windows
came the sunlight on him,
And the sun-beams wove around him
golden cloaks of his own influence.

In his hand, the dead staff blossomed,
Easter-lilies white as pearls.

The jewelled shrine flew open.
The saints in their carven niches
seemed to move.

Strong as a god he glittered.
Gold light brought him live.

The young King came down from the high altar,
and passed home through the midst of the people.

But no man dared look upon his face,
for it was like the face of an angel,

Yet in his own mind, he was scaled like an adder, his eyes
the black spots of a plump grave-worm curled in a
chestnut shell.

He dared not even think of what followed,
even in the spring sunshine, reassured by
the bustle from the street, redirected from the
death-sweat of Duty on his heart,
most of the time:

The day has always come. 
The vaulted roof vanishes, and we raise
our seared eyes to the fathomless glare,

To the black stars of our own ends, the wet
winds of Halì tossing the clouds, the towers
of Carcosa rising behind the moons we
show our madness, as the sun doth 
see our shame.
Or did,
Until his old friend knocked,

For Things
had Changed.

“I am myself but a slave, yet may I
give thee thy freedom,” Edward told John,
“For thou hadst pity on me first.

“It is hard work to always be
alone, with never a friend
you can have in honor, and
that love that is offered
means the whole rest
of the world when
it is found.

“I know it, we know it,
All who have nothing and
no one and give our
whole souls, un-
questioning, when
we love, still
knowing the
End.”

The color about Edward’s neck
deepened and whitened with
every breath. He’d cut a rose
from the bush out front with
his penknife, and now
pressed it into
John’s hand,

leading him
from that cave.

“You are mocking me, “ John told him,
“And making light of my misery.’

But when they arrived,

the gate of the palace opened for them,
and the priests and the high officers
of the city ran forth to meet them,

and they abased themselves,
and said, ‘Thou art our Lords
for whom we have been waiting.”

John believed none of it. “How say ye
that I am beautiful, for I know that I
am Evil to look at?”

But the nobles were on their knees,
As though before a King and Queen

“I would wash your feet with my tears,”
John told Edward, who fell on his neck
and kissed him, and brought him into
the palace.

And over the city that stood by the river
they ruled in Justice and Mercy

And to the poor they gave bread,
And to the naked they granted raiment,

And there was peace and plenty in the land.

W.H. Pugmire

Canto 2: Each Man Does Not Die

I read this again, remembering (as I do each time I dream,)
my incarceration and release.

What ails me, to wear a face like this? While I was
inside, I rarely betrayed my sorrow, even to myself.
Self-deception was no longer even a mask, for me,
though Night shed that serpent-skin, and bared
the stifled sob behind it. When the day broke,
The scales fell back of their own will.

Yet still there comes that breathless expectancy.
I wake in the morning with my heart beating,
and all day the excitement increases
until I fall asleep, to recall
the same experience.

The day they let me go,
after eighteen months, I kissed
the flagstones in Picadilly,

Then stood erect and looked
with sick mole’s eyes upon
the sun in full glow (nothing
like myself.)

Oh the wickedness, the hopeless damnation of a soul
who could fascinate and paralyze human creatures
with words,

Words understood by the ignorant and wise alike,

More precious than jewels,
more soothing than Music,
More awful than Death!

My world had been between those dank stone walls.
I had to build one again, however briefly, knowing
not for whom I waited, save my Self, which had
but shifted with the years, not really changed.

I could still look to the glass,
To the summer sky, and fields
of flowers whiter than snow,
with hearts of pure gold,

Though I had killed the thing I loved,
And bled upon that plain.

But when I came to Paris
on that steamer, not
long later,

I crept along, making my
feet move, feeling a dawning
sense of responsibility for some
old scandal, long-forgot, as if
I deserved every second of
anything.

I’d got loose. Now I stumbled
the best I could, and said
some of these words aloud,

All the while gazing
on the malignant hatred
of those last rays,
face to face.

The human soul is always free, and should
fear nothing, but to be the object of so
much hatred is truly, physically
painful.

At the sunset of my life, I came to a bridge
where the Keeper cried “None shall pass
without Wisdom.” I laughed at him.
“There’s still Time..” He smiled,
and bade me pass, though the
madding crowd shrieked that
I’d come too late to that Palace,

Yet, having lived with my eyes open,
I dreamt that I awoke.

So plainly did I hear the midnight bells,
and the wind in the tree-branches,
that even now I tremble,

Robed in harlequin clothes and clown white,
missing a tooth, a Truth

The Truth rots behind bars in my dreams.
My tooth rotted out. I affixed it to one bell
on my cap of Fools.

If Innocence is Beauty,
who but Death can compare
With my own pallid mask?
Death approaches, tells me I am
paler still, and very beautiful

He holds up the canvas. There is
Some defect in it, or the paint,
A gangrene beneath the picture
that spreads like a sponge
drawing blood

A horrible colour
not quite in the spectrum
that turns flesh to green
cheese. what creatures
artists are, like an
awful dream we
all once had
that bled
into the
wake.

My portrait’s in ruin.
The Reaper’s my mirror.
I do not wear my scarlet coat
where the shadows in men’s
souls lengthen to monster
size at the death of after-
noon, when twin suns
sink, and darkness
fills my cahiers
with old blood.

Self-preservation writhes
in the throes of Banality,
where all true Horror
dies, drowns, drags
down with it, All.
Terrible in sim-
plicity, irresist-
ible in Truth, it
stoops and binds
the stars, one
by one, &
turns them
black,

(boiling in the jaundiced sky)

The splendid diadem
of Verse upon my head
until the end, my
pretty corpse in
this white silk robe….

The supreme note
of Art will spread
from continent to
continent like an
infectious disease.

Human nature itself
will break beneath
the strain of these
words of purest
poison.

Yet each man does not
stop. I shall be Queen,
boys, Queen in Carcosa

when the Dawn comes
with the workhouse

key.

*
SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF ST. WILUM HOPFROG PUGMIRE,
TITAN OF COSMIC HORROR,
MY FRIEND.

Edward Morris

Edward Morris is a 2011 nominee for the Pushcart Prize in literature, also nominated for the Rhysling and the British Science Fiction Association Award. His work has appeared in Interzone, Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year 2, The Worlds of Philip Jose Farmer, and many other markets around the world; most recently, Dark Regions Press’ Summer of Lovecraft, and Nightmares in Yellow: Tribute Stories to Joseph Pulver.

 

 

from left to right: Nick Gucker, Sam McCanna, W.H. Pugmire, Ross E Lockhart, and… I’m not sure who!

One response to ““The Star-King”, by Edward Morris. Dedicated to W.H. Pugmire.

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